Harmony, tolerance stem from Turkish schools
Zamboanga Peninsula, the sixth most populous region and the third geographically largest in the Philippines, is home to 70 per cent Christians and 30% percent Buddhist and Muslim people.
The peninsula has been in the headlines for Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s militancy against security agencies. The Christian and Muslim communities have adapted to live in a tense equilibrium, with fire fights and bomb blasts claiming precious lives on one hand, and soaring number of unconstitutional disappearances on the other. Wherever the two communities live side by side, traffic on the roads dividing them becomes litmus test for peace or unrest in the vicinity.
While compatriot tourists visit the country’s southern peninsula exercising caution, some foreigners are seen calmly working in a Zamboanga school. Since 1997, Turkish educationists are sowing the seeds of tolerance and coexistence through the Filipino-Turkish Tolerance High School located at the heart of the strife-torn region.
With humble beginning of 89 students, the insitution today has boarding and teaching facilities for over 1,000 students.The school gets equal attention of Christian and Muslims parents and their offsprings.
“It also has one of the best dormitories not only in Zamboanga, but in Mindanao.The Filipino-Turkish Tolerance School, considered one of the best in the region, has produced a number of students that topped in many international competitions and were even cited for their excellent educational skills,” noted The Mindanao Examiner newspaper in one of its story in 2007.
Encouraged by the vision of a Turkish Muslim scholar, M. Fethullah Gülen, over 1,500 non-governmental Turkish educational institutions have spread to almost 115 countries worldwide.
The schools, also working in collaboration with local businessmen, strive to provide students with a learning environment to “make them acquire solid competencies in critical thinking, creative problem solving, consensus building, informed decision making and technical literacy.”
Thomas Michel, Secretary General of Interfaith Dialogue Council in Rome, Italy, visited the Turkish tolerance schools in 1995, in Zamboanga.
“The Turkish and Filipino staff’s proud claim was a stunning reality for me as Muslims and Christian students were getting education with true spirit of a culture of dialogue and tolerance," Michel shared these remarks with gatherings around the world.
He noted that children befriended their class fellows regardless of religious divides, thus their parents not only started communicating with each other but also eventually cooperate for children and community’s future both.